by Karma Bennett
Most bloggers know that you should use images in your posts, but beyond that there’s much confusion. In Part I of this series, I detailed four important tips in using your own photos on your blog. Today I’m going to give you four more tips on something even trickier: using photos that belong to someone else. Follow these like a blogger’s image commandments; disobey them at your own risk.
(Note, uncredited photos here are my own creation. Feel free to use them with credit to karmabennett.com)
1. Always Source Your Images
This is the most critical thing you need to take away from this article. If you only do one thing, always provide a source when you use someone else’s art. Most people who post their photos and art work online are happy to share it on your site, but only if you properly attribute the work to the creator. Otherwise, it’s theft: pure and simple.
I like to make the image into a link back to the page where I found the photo as well as naming the source in the caption of the photo. I then take the extra step of selecting the text for the source and making that into a link back to their site as well. It’s a bit more work, but it’s a small price to pay for a free photo.
2. Find the Original Source
When you discover a nice photo, often the blogger using it has borrowed it from someone else. Rather than crediting the last person in the chain, try to find the original source who took the photo. Often the blogger will have properly credited their source. However, the most reliable and easiest way to identify the original source for an image is the reverse-image search site tineye.com. Using TinEye and sorting the photos by age, you can get an idea of the earliest sources for the images. Bonus: often the popular source for a photo is a big site that won’t take any interest in your linkback to their article. Whereas often the original source is a smaller site that is more likely to take notice of your re-post of their photo.
3. Avoid Hotlinking
Typical anti-hotlinking image from a post about hotlinking on That Chicken Site
There are two ways to get someone else’s photo on your site. The harder way is to download the person’s photo to your own computer, and then re-upload it to your own site. The easier way is to use the URL option, where you simply paste the link to the url in a box, and it pulls up the photo. You may be wondering why anyone uses the harder way, but here I am going to tell you to always avoid using the image-via-url option.
Remember in Part I when I spoke of web hosts charging more for bandwidth costs? Well, when you post an image using a url that photo is showing up on your web page, but it is still hosted on the original blogger’s site. Which means every time someone views that page on your site, they are actually downloading it from the original blogger’s site. You’re using bandwidth they are paying for. Not fair! Some would even say that you are stealing their bandwidth. This practice is called “hotlinking” and there is no faster way to destroy your credibility as a blogger. Some bloggers hate hotlinking so much that they’ve even created special scripts that will show a different image than the one you intended if you hotlink to their site. These images usually strive to make you look like a chump.
I admit I have hotlinked on occasion, because it can save precious blogging time. But I only hotlink to big companies that can afford lots of server space (e.g. Facebook, Amazon). It’s safe to hotlink when it’s a website specifically designed for sharing, like meme sites or Facebook. If you are thinking of hotlinking, consider the source: is this image coming from a company with its own marketing department? Or is this a small site run by a handful of people? If they have a tip jar or are reliant on donations to keep their site running, then you should never hotlink their image.
4. Use Creative Commons for Free Images
Creative Commons logo via 4Webs.es
Copyright laws can be so restrictive. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a bunch of images that photographers have officially marked as free to share? Wouldn’t it be even better if there were a database of such images? This being the age of the Internet, I’m sure you’ll not be surprised that such a database exists: Creative Commons.
Creative Commons is the attribution given to art that its creator has officially declared: do what you want with this. You can find more than Creative Commons (sometimes labeled CC) images. Any original content can be marked Creative Commons. It means the regular rules of copyright don’t apply. There are a number of different ways to find Creative Commons images, and you can see all of them (but not search them all at once, unfortunately) at http://search.creativecommons.org/. I like to include CC in the name of the image when I save it, so I can remember that it is a Creative Commons image. With a CC image, you don’t have to worry that the photographer is going to tell you not to use the photo, because they’ve already given you permission. However, you still need to credit the photographer (remember I said always source your images), giving credit is still part of the Creative Commons license agreement.
You can learn more about the rules of sharing Creative Commons images here.
5. Notify Your Image Source
Ruby Ran‘s cupcake photo found via a Flickr Creative Commons search
So you’ve found a great image, maybe even a Creative Commons one, taken the time to download it and re-upload it to your own server. In fact your blog post is live and you’re ready to relax and have a nice beverage and a cupcake. OK, fine, but when you get back, I have more work for you.
Did you remember to let the photographer know that you used her image? No? Why are you making that blank face at me? Wouldn’t you want to know if someone used your photo on his or her website? Maybe you should put down that cupcake.
The final step in the process is to notify the photographer that you have used their photo. You can do this by emailing them, or simply by letting them know in a comment on the page where you found the photo (more on this in a minute). Send them a link to the post and let them know you will happily take down the photo if they want. After all, it’s possible that your post on doggie knitting patterns goes against their deepest religious and political beliefs. Or perhaps that photo has very personal meaning for them, and they just don’t like seeing it on someone else’s site. Whatever, the reason doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day the photo belongs to the photographer.
But once again, while notifying the photographer is the right thing to do, it still benefits you in the end. You can bet that if you use a blogger’s photo on your site, they will at least take the time to read your post…but only if they know it exists.
I prefer to leave the notification in a comment rather than in an email. This way, the link is there for anyone to see, which may result in a few more clicks on your link. Moreover, every time someone else links back to your site it tells search engines that your site is worth visiting, and they will rank you higher (by the way, this is the whole reason that comment spam even exists). Not all sites will give you this linkback juice, but it’s worth a shot.
Phew! Who knew putting a few photos in your blog post could be so much work? If you don’t want to deal with any of this mumbo jumbo, you can always pay ten bucks and buy a photo from a stock house. Stock houses have thousands of terrific photos, and once they have your money they don’t give a hoot what you do with it (so long as it’s just a blog). But there’s something pretty neat about discovering a perfect photo from an amateur photographer. It can be another way for you to reach out to other bloggers. Perhaps the blogger whose photo you use today will become one of your favorite guest bloggers next year. It’s all about building relationships, so get out there and do it.
Karma Bennett offers fully customized publicity campaigns tailored to the needs of her clients. In addition to traditional publicity outreach, she offers assistance with social media, marketing, SEO, book tours, and branding. She loves helping authors find the value in Twitter, Tumblr and other social media resources.
Prior to founding Future Is Fiction Communications, Karma was the publicist for Ulysses Press, voted by Publishers Weekly as one of the fastest-growing indie publishers in the world three of the four years she was in their employ.
She is a board member for San Francisco’s Book Promotion Forum.